A world without humans could be a new Eden

Multiply: Elephants and lions could reach Europe, the strongest swimming the Suez canal.

Yesterday, a major UN report warned that a great extinction has begun on Earth, threatening human life. But the planet is a living organism and would thrive without us, say scientists.

A whole world covered in dense forests and wide grassy plains. Animals big and small roam free.

But among the grass and weeds, there are stainless-steel pans, battered car tyres and shards of plastic. Birds make their nests in the ruins of concrete buildings.

Welcome to a world without humans.

The UN has warned that humanity’s domination of the planet is driving the sixth mass extinction and putting our survival in jeopardy. If we did go extinct, what would happen?

Moss and weeds quickly take over the buildings that were once our homes. Pipes freeze and explode.

The tunnels of the London underground flood without humans to pump out 47 million gallons of water from it every day.

Over 200 winters, the cycle of freezing and thawing causes humanity’s greatest monuments — from the Eiffel Tower to the Burj Khalifa — to buckle and crumble.

After just a few hundred years, London is a swampland — as it was before the Romans came to Britain.

But wildlife flourishes.

Animals, like tigers and orangutans, once pushed to the brink of extinction, expand their habitats into towns and cities. With room to repopulate, their numbers grow quickly.

Elephants and lions reach mainland Europe, swimming across the Suez Canal as their numbers boom.

Free from human control, forests start to grow on the 40% of Earth’s surface that is taken up by farmland.

The Earth’s climate cools. Sea levels fall. The abundant and varied plant life that covers the planet’s surface inhales the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide, and breathes out life-giving oxygen.

Still, carbon dioxide does not return to its pre-human levels for 100,000 years.

Long after our deaths, the marks of the Anthropocene remain. Scientists say we have left a permanent mark on Earth’s geological record.

Carved in granite, the faces of America’s founding fathers look out from Mount Rushmore for over seven million years.

As the billions of tons of plastic that litter the seas and fields start to degrade, particles of microplastic spread through the entire ecosystem. One day, bacteria may evolve to consume plastic, but that takes many millions of years.

A new beginning?

Would a world without humans be a new Eden? We are single-handedly destroying the planet and threatening all life on it. Through factory farming, we force millions of animals into existence only to live brutally short lives of misery and pain. Without us, the planet would be balanced and flourishing.

But is it really that simple? We may destroy, but we can also conserve the natural world. As the most evolved form of known life, we alone have the capacity to find a solution to this environmental apocalypse. The planet is depending on us.

You Decide

  1. Would planet Earth be better off without humans?
  2. Will humans ever solve the climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Choose an endangered animal and create a poster with pictures and facts about how many there are; why they are endangered, and what can be done to help them.
  2. Write a short story (of no more than two sides of A4) about the last human alive. Use sensory language to describe what they feel, see and hear.

Some People Say...

“Human nature is not black and white, but black and grey.”

Graham Greene

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Earth’s temperature has risen by around one degree since the Industrial Revolution. The past five years have been among the hottest five on record. Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year, according to the journal Science. Urban areas across the planet have doubled in size since 1992. According to the UN, one million species are at risk of extinction due to human activity.
What do we not know?
What would really happen if humans became extinct. These are predictions based on the information available to us now. It would possibly have devastating consequences for the environment. For example, degrading nuclear power plants could explode, killing many animals and causing genetic mutations in others.

Word Watch

Burj Khalifa
A skyscraper in Dubai, which has been the tallest building in the world since 2008. It is 828 metres tall. Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Tower, at over 1,000 metres, will become the tallest building in the world when construction is complete in 2020.
Suez Canal
It connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, allowing ships to travel from east to west without having to go around Africa or Russia.
Anthropocene
The Earth’s current geological age, according to some scientists, in which humanity is the dominant force on the climate and the environment.
Geological record
Layers of rock in the Earth’s crust reveal secrets about the planet’s history and climate over millions of years.
Mount Rushmore
The faces of US presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt are carved into cliff face in South Dakota.
Eden
The perfect garden that Adam and Eve lived in before the fall of man, according to the Old Testament.

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